I spent the week (Monday 12th – Friday 16th May 2014), attending the annual Intercontinental Church Society (ICS) Chaplains and Families Conference at Hothorpe Hall, which lies adjacent to the Northamptonshire-Leicestershire border, a few miles outside Market Harborough. Attending the conference was one of the two reasons for my two-day drive from the Czech Republic to the United Kingdom, that I described in my earlier post.
As I explained in my post about the 2013 Conference, ICS is an international Church of England mission agency seeking to make known the good news of the Christian Gospel to people who speak English, who find themselves living, studying, working or holidaying away from home in countries where English is not the main language. ICS mainly works in continental Europe and other countries that surround the Mediterranean, and has financially and prayerfully supported the Prague Anglican Chaplaincy since August 2000.
The conference struck a nice balance between prayer, worship and teaching with some free time each afternoon, to explore the delightful surrounding countryside. As so often with conferences of this nature, some of the most valuable time was spent talking informally with colleagues over coffee or on occasions, something a little stronger 🙂 All of us work in somewhat isolated situations with rarely any opportunity to meet with each other except at this annual gathering.
The area around Hothorpe Hall was somewhere I had previously explored by foot or on my bicycle during my teenage years when living in Coventry. On the Wednesday afternoon, I made a circular walk of around 13 km to see the staircase flight of ten locks at Foxton on the Leicester section of the Grand Union Canal, a place I last visited about forty years ago
As well as the locks, a remarkable feat of engineering in their own right, I was fascinated to see the remains of the neighbouring inclined plane, built at the beginning of the twentieth century but abandoned in 1928 because of being too costly to maintain. The whole site, which used to be totally overgrown, has in recent years, been completely cleared and landscaped.
I took a different and slightly longer route to return to Hothorpe Hall, one that avoided a section of busy main road and which took me through a field of flowering oil seed rape.
On the final evening of the conference, a celebration dinner was held. We were encouraged to dress up a little and several of the ladies wore dresses or skirts, rather than the usual jeans and I wore my suit, together with my favourite tie which features a series of white sheep with just one black sheep in the middle.
During the dinner, a tradition started at the 2013 conference was continued with a fun ‘awards ceremony’, known as the ICS Carrot Awards. Last year, little mementos were presented which were made of carrots – this year there were printed certificates featuring a smiling carrot logo. Clearly my suit and tie were impressive as was given the prestigious ICS Carrot Award in recognition of being the best dressed man during the conference 🙂
Whilst the weekend following the conference, was meant to be the first part of my holiday, on the morning of Sunday 18th May, I undertook a deputation visit on behalf of ICS and was the preacher at two supporting parishes, St. Mary the Virgin, Wilby and St. Mary Magdalene, Ecton, two villages near Wellingborough in Northamptonshire. As well as preaching, I was also interviewed at both services by the Rector, Rev’d Chris Pearson, asking me to explain about my ministry in the Czech Republic and how ICS supports that work by finance and prayer. It was a most worthwhile morning, tinged by a little bit of déjà vu as I drove between services through the Northamptonshire countryside, echoes of my fifteen and a half years of rural multi-parish benefice ministry in the Oxfordshire countryside 🙂